“Doesn’t Everyone Support Shari?a?” Journalism and Competing Ethical Standards in Aceh, Indonesia
After Aceh’s implementation of regional regulations in 2006 that permit local authorities to enforce Islamic criminal bylaws (qanun jinayat), journalists in Aceh have struggled to reconcile the arguably universal principles of journalism with the particular obligations of their faith. The 2012 suicide of a young woman threw these concerns into sharp relief. When, before her death, the newspaper Prohaba labeled the sixteen year old a “whore” after her arrest by the Wilayatul Hisbah (shari?a police), the Aceh chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) called a press conference to criticize the paper for violating the 2006 Journalistic Code of Ethics. Although the Indonesian Press Council agreed with AJI, the newspaper’s owners sued AJI for defamation, claiming that it had falsely blamed the paper for causing the suicide. The case, which was eventually settled out of court, and which, tellingly, resulted in the creation of KWPSI (the “Caucus of Journalists who defend Islamic Shari?a”), suggests that divisions within the journalists’ community reflect a larger controversy within the public sphere. Just who should regulate the work of journalists? Was the Prohaba dispute really about defending shari?a, or rather about siding with government authorities and defending the reputation of Aceh’s biggest and most powerful newspaper company? Differing views of the relationship between journalism and Islam are apparent in the competing ethical standards that have emerged in these and other debates over reporting on the implementation of Islamic criminal bylaws in Aceh.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 35-51
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program